Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith Reflects on Importance of Pride as Celebration and Activism | Orlando Area News | Orlando

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Photo by JD Casto

Orlando Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith at the 2021 Pride Parade

Orlando’s Come Out With Pride is here, and the celebrations are taking place amid tough times for LGBTQ people here in Florida. Over the past year, Governor Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers have become increasingly emboldened in their attacks on this community. Along with passing the Parents Rights in Education Act — or the “Don’t Say Gay” Act — the DeSantis administration recently banned Medicaid reimbursements for gender-affirming care, which is expected to affect approximately 9,000 transgender Floridians. It’s just the latest assault from a governor seeking national attention.

Against the backdrop of growing state hostility towards LGBTQ people, Orlando Weekly spoke with Crusading Orlando representative Carlos Guillermo Smith about Pride’s place in this image, as well as his personal connection to this Orlando tradition.

What does pride mean to you?
I love Orlando Pride not only because it’s such a great celebration of who we are as an LGBTQ inclusive and affirming community, but also because I’ve attended Pride every year for as long as I remember. My husband actually proposed to me on stage [at the Disney bandshell] a few years ago at Pride. I therefore hold this memory very close to my heart and associate my commitment to Pride each year.

Governor Ron DeSantis continues his attacks on trans people in Florida. What do you think of his administration’s recent attacks on this community?
Right now in Florida, our governor is attacking the freedom of existence of trans people. He turned the existence of trans and non-binary people into a kind of political debate. This is not a political debate. But that’s what makes this year’s pride even more important – because it’s our opportunity, especially the trans communities, to be highly visible, to celebrate their identities, and the fact that we have a very inclusive and assertive here in Orlando. And that gives this year’s pride a little more meaning, I think.

Do you see the Governor’s attacks as a somewhat cynical way to gain support from his base?
Absolutely. Ron DeSantis has used LGBTQ people – young gay men and trans people in particular – as political pawns to advance his own ambitions to become President of the United States. It’s very obvious. But what I don’t like to do is use the term culture wars, because culture wars imply that these attacks on LGBTQ people are just a silly political show that doesn’t mean anything. They actually have a detrimental impact on people’s lives. They endanger us and make us targets for the far right, which has been shaken into a moral panic by this governor. We must therefore take these attacks seriously. That’s why it’s really important that we vote, but also so important that we remain visible. Because nowadays participating in Pride is also an act of defiance, which I think goes back to our roots of why Pride was started in the first place.

“Nowadays, participating in Pride is also an act of defiance, which I think goes back to our roots of why Pride was started in the first place.”

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How can Orlando residents get involved to advocate for LGBTQ people in their community?

Well, I think it’s important that we do more than encourage people to vote. It is very important, but it is really the minimum. I think it’s really important for LGBTQ people and their allies to be part of the movement and to get involved in organizations that focus on LGBTQ equality. Organizations like Equality Florida, QLatinx. Support groups like the Zebra Coalition that provide shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. These are important organizations that it is essential that we support in times like these and with whom we remain engaged in order to really be able to make a difference.

How to support students in the era of the “Don’t Say Gay” law?
I think it’s really, really important that we continue to stay connected with our local school boards and school districts. Too many school districts across Florida have misinterpreted the “Don’t Say LGBTQ” law and been more expansive in their interpretation of the law, which, of course, is the intention of supporters. They wanted schools to overreact to the “Don’t Say LGBTQ” law in a way that truly censors LGBTQ people in schools. So I think it’s important that people are also in touch with their local school boards and school districts to ensure that we continue to provide safe and healthy educational environments in our classrooms for everyone, including homosexual children.

You mentioned that Pride, in some ways, goes back to its roots in terms of the challenge. Do you expect it to be equal parts activism and celebration?
I think we’re going to see a lot of both. I think we’re going to see a lot of people at Orlando Pride saying LGBTQ, saying gay, saying trans in defiance of the political environment that has been rocked by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Do you think Hurricane Ian will affect the celebration?
Often, after a disaster or after a crisis, people turn to celebrations and other outlets they can participate in – really for cathartic reasons. So I see in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian that this Pride celebration is going to be just as vibrant, if not more than years past, because people really need an outlet to be able to celebrate and be with the community.

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